Henry Choyce

Henry Choyce

The Choyce family can be traced back to William Choyce a member of the (Twy Cross) Parish of Leicestershire from 1526 to 1542.

The Choyces were Hugenot refugees  from Holland where they were weavers. [1]  John Choyce (b.1793, d.1874) was a farmer at Harris Bridge in Leicestershire. John Choyce was married three times and his third wife Amelia (nee Coley) gave birth to a son Henry Charles Choyce on 19th Feb 1841, at Wootten Wawen, near Stratford-on-Avon in Warwickshire. It is quite likely that Henry as a boy played with the famous English artist Edward Burne-Jones. Edward’s mother (nee Elizabeth Coley) died when he was only a week old and he is reported to have visited his aunt’s home regularly. Henry received part of his education in France and at age 16 was apprenticed to a wholesale drapery firm in London.  [2]

Henry came to New Zealand in the ship “Mary Shepherd” in 1866 at age 25.  However when the Mary Shepherd arrived in Auckland, the chosen area was not ready for settlement, so the passengers were given temporary quarters in the Albert Barracks. He was among the Bay of Islands Special Settlement party under the auspices of Captain Daldy but decided to come to Auckland, abandoning the right to a grant of forty acres of land under the settlement scheme. For those arriving in Auckland in 1866 employment was difficult to find in the drapery trade and so he worked at bush-felling until about a year later when he sailed with a friend to Thames and prospected for gold for five years.

Choyce-Milne marrriage announcement Oct 1874

M&C buildings

Henry Choyce returned to Auckland in the early 1870s and obtained a buyer’s position in the firm of Archibald Clark and Son, the main supplier of the Misses Milne, Mary Jane and Charlotte. It was in this capacity that he met and later married Miss Charlotte Milne and entered into partnership with his sister in law Mary Jane under the name of Milne and Choyce. Of their five children, Charles Coley (1875-1936), Bertha Mary (1877-1904), Ella Kathleen (1878-1961), Arthur Edmund (1886-1923) and Henry Vivian (1883- 1962), only the latter took an active role in the business. The partners bought out a business operated by Mr Berry Cass on the corner of Queen and Wellesley Streets.  Henry Choyce was managing director of the newly constituted public company for nineteen years from 1901 to 1920 and his son Henry Vivian Choyce was later appointed to the board of directors.

Milne and Choyce had been founded in 1874 as a millinery and mantle trader but developed into general drapery with over 100 staff in 1900. From 1901 to 1951 the company traded as a public company Milne and Choyce Ltd. In 1908 the successful and expanding company acquired a prime position on Queen St between the Bank of New Zealand and the Bank of New South wales which it rebuilt as an 8 storey building in 1921-23, followed by the addition of a wing fronting Mills Lane with a large reception room on top. The store expanded into becoming a department store in the many senses of the word. The company had done reasonably well during World War One as it had delayed the planned building programme. When it opened in 1923, the new building had lifts, escalators and an electric cash register system and the sixth storey restaurant The Tudor Room proved very popular with Aucklanders.

In 1920 Henry Choyce indicated he would like a less active part in the company and accepted an advisory role at £350 per annum as from the 1st October 1920. After Henry retired, John Stuart Milne became managing director and successfully guided the firm through two depressions and the Second War World to 1947 when his son Robert Stuart Milne took over the position which he still held twenty years later. [3]

Henry Choyce remained a director of the firm until his death in 1937 aged 97, and had been associated with the business for 61 years, as a founder, a director for thirty seven years and managing director for 19 years.[4].  Henry was on the St Aidan’s Church Committee from 1908 to 1914. He was a very keen bowls player and was for many years a member of the Remuera Bowling Club, playing well into his 90s. At his death, Henry Choyce was survived by his son Henry Vivian Choyce, and a daughter Mrs Ella Wilson. His eldest son Charles Choyce, Professor of surgery at London University, had died the previous year 1936. [5]  Henry Choyce lived at ‘Ngaponga’ in Remuera Road and from 1922 at 10 Lucerne Rd Remuera until his death in 1937. His son Henry Vivian and his wife Kathleen also lived at 10 Lucerne Rd until Henry Vivian’s death in 1962. [6]

M&C buildings

Centennial Street

Milne and Choyce: a one hundred year business history 1867-1967. By K A Tucker.

Lucerne Rd 10

Milne & Choyce had another strong connection to Remuera through its stores. In the 1950s Milne & Choyce had started opening suburban branches, including their final one in Remuera in 1965 on the corner of Remuera Rd and Garden Rd in place of the demolished Mandalay reception centre. The Remuera Milne and Choyce was their largest store at 16,000 sq. ft. at a cost of £250,000. 3500 sq. ft. was devoted to a self-service foodhall, complete with butcher’s shop, delicatessen, and foodstuffs. As well as women’s and children’s wear, there were departments selling footwear, cosmetics, dress materials, Manchester, gifts, china, glassware and housewares. There was also a coffee bar with a counter for ‘sweets, cakes and fresh coffee’. [7] The coffee lounge overlooked Hobson Bay and the ‘picturesque homes of Garden Rd. [8] The store presented only a single storey to Remuera Rd but was actually 3 storeys with a basement for food storage and preparation, the shopping floor and a rooftop. Milnes was also very proud of its rooftop carpark with capacity for 60 cars. The store was opened by Deborah Jane Milne on the 31st May 1965. [9]

In 1966 a Centennial Street exhibit was opened in the Milne’s Queen Street store, where it remained for six months. This celebrated the 100 years of Milne and Choyce as a retail business in Auckland and featured many of the businesses on Auckland‘s golden shopping mile, Queen Street. Bob and John Milne dedicated £7000 to spend on this grand and permanent centenary gesture ( $250,000 in today’s money). Thirty thousand people visited it in the first two weeks. After six months the whole street was disassembled and installed at the Auckland Museum, where it was officially reopened in October 1967 as ‘Auckland 1866’.[10]

In the 1970s Fletcher Holdings bought a controlling share of Milne and Choyce. Haywrights took over the retail stores and the name Milne & Choyce disappeared. The Queen Street flagship store closed in 1976, John Milne resigned and Bob Milne stayed on but only as Chairman. In 1978 Bruce Everett bought the Remuera store and in 1987 restored it under the name of Milnes of Remuera. Departments were rationalised and children’s and babywear, school uniforms, shoes, hardware and kitchenware disappeared.  Cosmetics and existing departments were upgraded.

What was in effect a small mall at the northern end of the Remuera shopping strip was sold in 1999, after five years in the hands of investor and developer Chris Verissimo to Gavin and Winifred Kellaway to add to their Airlie property collection. [11] Milnes of Remuera became Airlie Court to complete a re-imaging after a $1 million refurbishment project. This ended a 126 year old connection with the Milne and Choyce family as retailers in Auckland’s history. The Centennial Street at the Auckland War Memorial Museum was closed in 2015, said to make way for a ‘virtual’ digital version and a new World War One exhibition.